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Dr. Shirley Raines: A woman of possibilities

by Susan Agee from Memphis Woman

Ask Dr. Shirley Raines to talk about herself and the subject will eventually wind back around to education. "It just reflects who I am," she says.

The fifty-six year old new president of the University of Memphis has worked a number of education related jobs, starting with an interest in early childhood education. "When I entered college, I knew I wanted to teach, but I didn't know that I wanted to teach very young children. But the more I learned about them, the more fascinated I became with their growth and development."

Raines received her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin, then followed it with a masters in Child Development and a doctorate in Education Curriculum and Instruction from UT, Knoxville. She has worked as a Headstart director and organized a Community Child Center at Roane State Community College, as well as holding teaching and/or administrative positions at state universities in Alabama, Florida and Kentucky, and at North Carolina Wesleyan and George Mason University.

The Jackson, Tennessee native was raised on a farm just outside of Bells, Tennessee. Besides the family's agricultural business, Raines's mother owned a real estate agency and set yet another example for "getting the job done" in the young Raines's eyes. And Raines had a lot of opportunities to exercise her leadership skills as a resident of a small town. "I was in 4H, cheerleading and Beta Club; I worked on the school newspaper and yearbook and I did lots of things at church. If there was something to be done, I was part of it, whether it was organizing people for the American Heart Fund or the poppy selling for the veterans. I'm sure that I would have done some of these things if I'd lived in a larger city, but there just fewer of us so everyone had to pitch in and help.

Raines didn't realize just how well she had been trained to lead until she began her teaching career and found that she was consistently being asked to take on administrative responsibilities. At the University of Alabama, she was just an assistant professor and was asked to be chair of elementary and early education. That sort of thing "never happened," says Raines. Finally she became proactive and began applying for the administrative positions. "It took a few affirmations of that for me to see that I had those possibilities."

Possibilities are what she sees in Memphis, not only for the university, but for women. It wasn't until she was training teacher's aides at the Headstart center she directed that Raines's interest in the educational process started focusing on adults. She had known from her own experience that good preparation was important for teachers, but as an administrator she began to see the importance of education in many lines of work. Raines uses a technique at her speaking engagements where she hands out 3x5 index
cards to the audience members and asks them to make suggestions or ask questions on the cards. "One time I received a card from a woman who wrote her name, and in very large print, the number '19'," says Raines. "She said 'I've been doing the same job for nineteen years. I need a change and I need somebody to talk to me about how to be making this change.' We had someone contact her and counsel with her, and she went on to pursue a masters degree and to be very successful in a different role in a government agency. Sometimes adults know they want to do something different, but they don't know what and they'd like to have some career counseling. We can provide that kind of connection."

Although she can't pass out 3x5 cards to the whole community, Raines is very interested in what the women of Memphis would like to see happen at the university. And she would like for them to know that help is available - financial and academic - to help them reach their educational goals. "I think the time is right for women to be successful," she says. "I think in the explosion of small businesses, our knowledge driven economy and this service oriented world, people are looking at how to help the community develop and provide the services that are needed. I think these are wonderful opportunities for women."

When asked how she defines success, Raines is not hesitant in answering. "My immediate response is finding something you love to do and getting the opportunity to do it." She sees the ultimate goal of success as the same for both men and women, but acknowledges that a woman's path to success usually involves more stops, starts and side detours, because a woman usually has most of the responsibility for the children. Her own path was made a little smoother by a decision that she and her husband made early in their marriage. "Bob and I decided that we would alternate career moves, that we might make one career move for him, but the next one would be for me. We've been fortunate to able to do that in higher education, to find cities to move to and universities where both of us could take part. I know it's not always as easy as it has been for us."

"Bob" is Dr. Robert J. Canady, Raines's husband of twenty-one years and a retired university education professor. They have a "blended family" of four adult children. Her thirty-year-old son works for a consulting firm in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, while Canady's three children are spread from California to Kentucky to Alabama. They also have three grandchildren in Kentucky.

The moves that Raines has made in her career not only fulfilled her evolving professional goals, but led her to met Canady. "I was finished with my doctorate and looking for my first full-time teaching position. He was a professor and chaired the committee that found me for the job at the University of Alabama. A year later, we were married."

Raines and her husband both find the university atmosphere invigorating, and Raines plans to stay at the University of Memphis for at least ten years. When the "if you hadn't taken this path" question comes up, she says that she might have gone into pediatric medicine or started a small business, but the evolution of her career, with its leaps that happened with no direct effort from Raines herself, speaks for itself. "I believe passionately in education and it's value," she says, "so to stay associated with education is really important to me."

This move to Memphis is Raines's "turn," and her husband is finding a new career as a stained glass artist. A testament to his talent is a beautiful lamp that graces a desk in Raines's office. "That was a gift to me. He usually does huge pieces," she says. He's found another niche for himself, and Raines is asked for her opinion of how much of a woman's life does it take to find her niche.

"I believe you begin forming those concepts of who you are early on in life, as you see yourself through other people's eyes, and experience successes and failures that lead you to say, 'I'm good at this and not so good at that.' We find that out over time. I know that I'm still discovering who I am."

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